A transdisciplinary approach to disease ecology: Emerging coronaviruses

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Rafael Ojeda-Flores
Paola Martínez-Duque
Rogelio Alonso Morales
Enrique Corona-Barrera
Oscar Rico-Chávez
Gerardo Suzán


Humankind is currently facing the effects of an unparalleled pandemic that has impacted healthcare, social, and economic systems worldwide. Numerous studies have been published since the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak began in Wuhan, China. Most have focused on virology, epidemiology, pathogenesis, and therapeutic medicine, having been centered by reactive strategies to control the pandemic. Meanwhile, publications addressing the ecological, evolutionary, and anthropogenic drivers of virus emergence, and potential strategies to prevent future outbreaks have been sparse. Here, we highlight the necessity of complementary and transdisciplinary insight and methodologies from an integrated perspective to study emergent diseases. It is paramount to situate the consistently associated factors to understand the complexity of the current pandemic. Disease ecology can examine information to recognize the causes of emergence while appraising the role of interactions among pathogens, domestic animals, wildlife, and humans, integratively. Here we draw on a variety of disciplines and perspectives, from evolutionary biology, biogeography, ecology, molecular epidemiology and integrative health, to address the emergence of coronaviruses, with particular emphasis on SARS-CoV-2. We describe the process of the surfacing of zoonotic diseases, highlighting the interactions among wildlife, domestic animals, and humans, as well as the genetic, evolutionary, ecological, and anthropogenic processes that favor coronavirus epidemics and epizootics. We discuss specific results related to coronavirus investigations conducted in Mexico based on disease ecology methodologies. Finally, we describe alternative approaches for understanding and preventing future outbreaks and we suggest strategies to entice integrative and transdisciplinary research within the One Health/Ecohealth paradigm.

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